Zoning Changes in the Works for Drive-Thrus

The Ann Arbor planning commission has recommended approval of several amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance related to drive-thrus. The action took place at the commission’s April 1, 2014 meeting.

If approved by the city council, the amendments would add a definition of a “drive-thru facility” to Chapter 55 of the city code. Currently, the term used throughout the code is “drive-in,” which is not explicitly defined in the code.

In addition, the changes would require drive-thrus to obtain special exception use permits, which would be allowed only in the O (office), C2B (business service) and C3 (fringe commercial) zoning districts. Basic layout requirements would also be added to the ordinance. Currently, drive-thrus are allowed in C3 districts without a special exception use. They are allowed as special exception uses in the C2B district.

When considering whether to grant a special exception use – which does not require additional city council approval – the planning commission considers these issues:

1. Is the location, size and character of the proposed use compatible with the principal uses of the district and adjacent districts? Is it consistent with the Master Plan? Is it consistent with the surrounding area? Will it have any detrimental effects to the use or value of surrounding area, or the natural environment?

2. Is the location, size, character, layout, access and traffic generated by the use hazardous or inconvenient or conflicting with the normal traffic of the neighborhood? Is off-street parking safe for pedestrians? Do the necessary vehicular turning movements block normal traffic flow? Are any additional public services or facilities needed by the use, and will they be detrimental to the community?

3. Is the maximum density and minimum required open space at least equal to the standards normally required by the Zoning Ordinance for the district?

The changes will give planning commissioners more discretion in approving drive-thru businesses, including restaurants, banks, pharmacies and other types of drive-thrus. Commissioner Jeremy Peters noted that he preferred the approach of requiring a special exception use, rather than an outright prohibition of drive-thrus.

The proposed amendments were first reviewed by the commission’s ordinance revisions committee in 2007, but never moved forward to the full commission for consideration. The ORC most recently reviewed these changes in March of 2014. [.pdf of staff memo and proposed amendments]

This brief was filed from the second floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]